I went to the library on a whim, hoping to find a book
on tape that would break the monotony of marathon nursing sessions
with my four-month-old, some book that wasn’t about, say,
babies dying, politics, or dieting. I found an audio version of Bridget Jones’s Diary, and wheeled the stroller through
the stacks while the baby slept. Tucked in a back corner were about
fifty books on pregnancy and childcare.
Most of the childcare
books I’d read so far offered paternalistic advice and warnings
about everything from changing the cat litter to the staggering
question, “Does every woman need an enema?” (Your
Pregnancy Week by Week). It’s not a surprise that they
offered little comfort, and in fact, made me feel worse. I still
felt like a train wreck months after the “magical” date
of six weeks post-partum.
Then I pulled Life
After Birth: What Even Your Friends Won’t Tell You About Motherhood
by Kate Figes (with Jean Zimmerman) from the shelf.
I looked through the table of contents: Health After Birth, Adjusting
to Motherhood, Emotions, Exhaustion, Working and the “Good”
Mother, Relations with the Father, Friends and the Outside World,
Sex and Sensuality, Family Life. Skimming the introduction, I found
this: “Isn’t post-partum depression really post-partum
experience?” I went home with more hope than I had had in
weeks, and was not disappointed.
Life After Birth addresses every aspect of a woman’s life that changes with
the birth of a child (in a word: everything). Figes uses interviews
with new mothers, statistical data, extensive historical accounts,
and personal experiences to honestly describe the upheaval women
experience when they become mothers.
Nearly everything in
the book was encouraging to read. The conspiracy of silence surrounding
those first few months left me feeling like I was the only one facing
a minefield of identity crisis, confusion, out-of-control emotions,
exhaustion, lasting physical pain, and sometimes mourning for my
former life. Seeing everything I’d been going through in print
was an enormous relief; even better, Figes articulates what I was
just too tired to explain in my own words (very helpful in the “Relations
with the Father” department).
The authors also include
a guide to post-partum health problems in the back of the book,
dealing extensively with post-partum depression in an earlier chapter.
Many chronic illnesses in new mothers go untreated, because symptoms
are mistaken for common complaints of sleep-deprived parents. “Well,
you just had a baby” can answer for a lot of problems, but
sometimes there is more to the story. This resource helps separate
the assumptions from the reality.
Figes explodes the myth
that a woman should be able to quickly bounce back to her pre-baby
figure, attitude, work schedule, and sex life. They provide great
evidence to the contrary, but with the sobering reality is hope:
life will be chaotic for a while, but a new type of normalcy will
finally descend. And while the chaos is happening, Figes says, a
new mother needs to be pampered and cherished, just as much as the
new baby in her life. A new mother needs to be affirmed in the momentous
accomplishment of birth: no matter how the baby came out, she has
gone through a powerful rite of passage. Our culture, and even many
mothers, have largely forgotten these truths, sending vulnerable
women underground to battle their shock, guilt, and lingering pain
One of the best things
about Life After Birth is the clarity it gives to such
a confusing time. Things instantly change when a woman gives birth,
and I was taught to expect that. But how things change took me completely
by surprise: the intensity of emotions, unexpected strains in my
marriage, a new connection with in-laws, the unintended disconnect
from friends without children. All of these new circumstances require
time and solitude to process, two luxuries new mothers rarely have.
It is a blessing, then, to find a resource like Life After Birth,
to make the adjustment to motherhood less painful.
mmo : October